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Are 1st round backs a good investment?

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The naysayers would point to the success of 2nd day backs like Brandon Jacobs, Marion Barber and Micheal Turner as well as pointing to the large list of 1st round RB busts. The proponents of 1st round backs can point to the superstar backs that have come from the early picks and insist that the back they want in the 1st round is bust-proof.

Here's the recent (5 year) history of RB yards per year, by round.

Year Round(s) Backs 1,000 Yards Per Year
500 Yards Per Year Average
2008 1st 5 1 (Chris Johnson) 1 (Stewart) 577
2008 2nd/3rd 5 2 (Forte, Slaton)
1 (Kevin Smith) 861
2008 4th-7th 17 0 0 68
Year Round(s) Backs 1,000 Yards Per Year 500 Yards Per Year Average
2007 1st 2 2 (Peterson, Lynch)
0 1,313
2007 2nd/3rd 7 0 0 186
2007 4th-7th 13 0 0 269
Year Round(s) Backs 1,000 Yards Per Year 500 Yards Per Year Average
2006 1st 4 0

4 (Bush, Maroney,

Williams, Addai)

721
2006 2nd/3rd 4 0 3 (MJD, White, Norwood) 537
2006 4th-7th 9 0 0 271
Year Round(s) Backs 1,000 Yards Per Year 500 Yards Per Year Average
2005 1st 3 0 3 (Brown, Benson, Cadillac) 682
2005 2nd/3rd 6 1 (Gore) 0 262
2005 4th-7th 13 0 2 (Barber, Jacobs) 147
Year Round(s) Backs 1,000 Yards Per Year 500 Yards Per Year Average
2004 1st 3 1 (Steven Jackson) 1 (Kevin Jones) 721
2004 2nd/3rd 3 0

2 (Julius Jones, Tatem Bell)

434
2004 4th-7th 9 0 1 (Turner) 173
Year Round(s) Backs 1,000 Yards Per Year 500 Yards Per Year
Average
Total 1st 17 4 9 721
Total 2nd/3rd 25 3 6 434
Total 4th-7th 61 0 3 173

 

You can find productive backs later in the draft, but for every Marion Barber, Brandon Jacobs or Micheal Turner there are 15 backs that don't do a thing. Even with almost 4 times as many backs the 2nd day picks don't have as many successes as the 1st rounders. Drafting a 1st round back is taking a much larger financial risk to greatly minimize the risk you don't get a capable back.

 

From this data it would seem like the tipping point is at 721 yards. If you currently have a back that can get 721 yards a season then drafting a first round pick is just as likely to net you an inferior back than an upgrade.